Eastern Commerce may have less than 100 girls walking their halls but that hasn’t stopped their senior basketball team from having a chance to repeat as 4A city champions this year.
The Saints dominated the majority of their opponents last season as evidenced by the 61-31 drubbing they gave Northern in the city finals.
Last year’s team relied on the talent of some great players but the focus this time around has transitioned to more of a team game according to head coach Kareem Griffin.
“We had a great group of individuals that individually were phenomenal at their position last year,” Griffin said, during a pick-up game between some of the girls on the team at Eastern on Tuesday. “This team, not as talented but better team oriented.
“They’re using each other a lot better and their chemistry is a lot better. “
Despite losing some players that were on the roster last year, such as Sammy Hill off the Canadian Junior National team, Griffin doesn’t see a lack of a true star player as a bad thing necessarily.
“When you’re an individually talented player and you can do things to free yourself, it kind of takes away from the element of using your other teammates,” Griffin said. “But when you know individually we don’t have great talent one through 12 you kind of have to use different tactics.
“Our chemistry is what’s going to get us through any obstacle in our way.”
If there’s one key player in the bid to repeat it’s 18-year-old power forward Tayla Gibb.
Gibb is the team captain and its longest serving player entering her third season with the Saints.
She was on the more talented team last season and seems on page with coach Griffin in regards to where the team needs to improve this year to be successful.
“I think we just have to build our team chemistry more, it’s a new team so we just need to learn how to work with each other,” Gibb said. “We have a lot of raw talent so we just need to get used to playing together.”
They certainly have no shortage of time to acclimate.
The team gets together twice a day beginning with on court practise from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. before school starts. After class, the girls get together again for conditioning and weight training.
It isn’t just laps around a track for these ladies either, the strength and conditioning coach for both the school’s girls and boys teams is EC alum and former Xavier track and field runner Teyva Reid.
“When I went to Eastern I was an always an energy guy so I try to bring that element to them, get them using more energy than they’re used to,” Reid said. “I took all the exercises and things I used at Xavier and adapted them for basketball.
“Short bursts, stride lengths, all the things that will help them improve on the basketball court.”
If the Saints wish to win again this year there are significant roadblocks in the way.
At the city level, coach Griffin expects Northern to field a strong team again and to face stern tests from Oakwood, Jarvis, and possibly Riverdale.
For the team to advance and have a shot at an OFSAA provincial title, where they lost to Waterloo Collegiate last year, St. Marys, St. Thomas Moore, Waterloo Collegiate and John McGregor are all likely to provide challenges.
“Anything that comes in our way I think this group is good enough and headstrong enough that they will battle through the storm,” Griffin said. “I can’t really pinpoint obstacles that are going to stop us because I can’t see it overtaking us.
“I can’t see this group losing focus because the players that came back saw how everything went down and within themselves don’t want it to happen that way again.”
One of those players is Gibb who refuses to come up short at the OFSAA provincials again.
“I want to win OFSAA gold. That’s my only expectation for the team.”
The quest begins with league play starting towards the end of September.